Jermaine O’Neal is one of the four non-draft pick acquisitions for the Golden State Warriors this offseason and will address the need for a backup center. With Festus Ezeli put out of commission for at least several months of the season and Andrew Bogut having an infamous reputation when it comes to health, O’Neal will likely be relied on heavily, The biggest question will be if the veteran big man, who will turn 35 at the beginning of the season, can shoulder that much responsibility in the twilight of his long career. Let’s take a look at what we can expect from the NBA journeyman.
The biggest caveat with O’Neal’s stats is his year with the Phoenix Suns. His year with Phoenix was the first time since the 2009-10 season that he posted more than 15 points per 36 minutes and could be considered a comeback year for the big man.
The one issue is that the Suns boast a training staff leaps and bounds ahead of any other in the league, a training staff that is especially known for its ability to revive and prolong the careers of players past their ideal years. Players like Shaquille O’Neal, Grant Hill and Steve Nash have experienced the training staffs healing magic and their performance in Phoenix is a testament to the skill of that organization in milking everything it can get from aging stars.
The question then becomes, if O’Neal’s production will not be at Phoenix level, where will it likely be? My answer is somewhere below his 8.3 points per game for the Suns, yet somewhere above his measly five points per game for the Celtics in the 2011-12 season. My reasoning is that O’Neal will be the go-to option on the second unit down low, similar to his Phoenix situation in which he was the main backup to Marcin Gortat. For the Celtics, the former Most Improved Player had to fight for minutes with Greg Stiemsma and Chris Wilcox.
Even if O’Neal isn’t back to the same rejuvenated form he was in Phoenix, he will still be getting more touches, and as a result see himself scoring better than five points per game.
More impressive than just improving his scoring, O’Neal posted a field goal percentage and a free throw percentage greater than his career averages. This is one of the things that I think will be the hardest for him to replicate as the Suns training staff specifically places emphasis on a player’s shot and shooting form. This is also one of the major reasons I don’t see O’Neal breaking eight points because even if he is getting the right looks and touches, he simply won’t be able to keep up his efficiency.
While O’Neal nearly posted six consecutive 20 point seasons in his prime, it was his defense that paid the bills. The six time All-Star has the 26th highest blocks per game of all NBA players and the 20th highest of total career blocks. He has the 13th highest block percentage of all NBA players, which is an even better representation of his defensive prowess. Even in his “old” age, O’Neal still managed to average 1.4 blocks per game.
His ability to swat the ball has been a near constant since he started playing in the 1996-97 season. In any season where has he has averaged more than 13 minutes per game (all but three of his season in the league), he has at least averaged one block per game. At his peak, he averaged 2.8 blocks per game. Whether or not O’Neal will be in Pacers form, Phoenix form or his Celtics form, you can count on him making a block.
O’Neal is a part of one of the biggest “What Ifs?” in the history of the NBA. What if the Malice at the Palace did not happen? The infamous Pacers-Pistons brawl derailed one of the youngest and most promising teams in the league. The Pistons had just come off their world championships, but they weren’t viewed as invincible. The young Pacers squad had started the season 6-2 and were blowing out the champion Pistons just before the brawl started.
The team had the perfect mix of young stars in then Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson and veteran players like Reggie Miller. The team combined a mix of dominating defense and great offense in a potent combination that ultimately never got to see more than seven games together.
O’Neal is painfully aware of this, probably more than most, and since the fateful brawl, he has never been able to settle down. Since that fateful November day, he has played for five teams in nine years, and the warriors will make it six in ten. Hopefully this veteran ends his long career that has been plagued with the “What If” in Golden State.